By George Ferguson
The Havre High girls basketball team has reached the halfway point of the 2002-03 season and tonight the Ponies will look to get the second half of their season off to a good start as they travel to Great Falls to take on the Great Falls High Bison.
The Ponies are coming off of a 2-1 weekend with wins over Malta and Chinook and a tough home loss to the Browning Indians. The two victories upped Havre's record to 4-5 and head coach Dennis Murphy knows that tonight's matchup with the Bison will be a tough task for his youthful team. But Murphy also sees it as a golden opportunity.
"Great Falls High is a very good team playing extremely well right now," Murphy said. "But I told the girls this week that we have a great opportunity to beat a very good team. If they are mentally prepared, I think we can win this game."
The Ponies will also be aided by the fact that this is the only game they play this week, and Murphy is looking to capitalize on that.
"This is our only game we have to prepare for this week," Murphy said. "So our focus and preparation all week has been on the Bison. I think that will help us because they are all we have to be focused on."
Havre enters tonight's contest at the midway point of a very tough regionalized schedule, and when asked to assess his teams progress, Murphy is very positive.
"I really believe we have gotten better since the season started," Murphy said. "We have taken some steps backward at times, but we have started to improve on some of things that we were not very good at. And tonight we are going to play a very solid team that will expose more things that we need to work on."
The Ponies invade the Bison Fieldhouse where the host team has a record of 6-1 under the direction of head coach Chris Lander. The Bison have not lost a game since the Dec. 5 and are currently sitting atop the Eastern AA conference standings.
Great Falls High also possesses the top scorer in the state in senior guard Michela Schmitz, who signed to play basketball for the University of Montana next season. Schmitz brings a robust 26.7 points per game scoring average and has a solid backcourt mate in sophomore Lauren Beck who is averaging 11.3 a game and leading the team in assists. But it is Schmitz who Murphy is concerned with tonight.
"Great Falls High has a player in Schmitz that is capable of putting up big numbers every night," Murphy said. "So we are going to start out the game in a man defense, but as soon as she starts to take off we will go to a box-in-one on her because she has the capability to put us away all by herself."
Havre brings a top scorer into tonight's contest as well in senior forward Carrie Flatau (15.7 ppg), who leads the Central A in scoring. Senior center Renessa Briere is leading the conference in rebounds (8.1 rpg) and sophomore point guard Amy McLain is second in the conference in assists (5.4 apg). The Ponies bench will also get a little deeper as sophomore guard Rylee O'Connell returns to action tonight. O'Connell has been suffering from the effects of a dislocated shoulder and Murphy said that her condition is on a week to week basis.
The game between the Bison and Ponies will tipoff at 7:30 p.m. at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls. Tonight's contest can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.